Dr. Jerry Buss, R.I.P.

“Showtime,” Changing Basketball ForeverDr. Jerry Buss, R.I.P.

In 1979, I had been living in North County San Diego for two years, having moved from my “home town”, Los Angeles.  San Diego had the “Clippers”, but, if you’re old enough t0 remember, they were, plainly put, a “bad team”.  I remained a devout and fanatic Los Angeles Laker supporter.  (My main reason for attending Clippers’ games was to see stars on the opposing teams play.  Besides, the stands were empty.  I could buy the cheapest seats and move near courtside, and nobody cared.)

Reading the paper one morning, I found out Dr. Jerry Buss, a real-estate businessman, had purchased the Lakers, along with the Forum and the Los Angeles Kings Hockey Club for an unbelievable 67.5 million dollars.  I didn’t know what to think.  I wondered if he’d change the way my beloved Lakers played.

Change he did, and for the better.  He created “Showtime”.  Jerry West was the mastermind behind the drafting of Magic Johnson and James Worthy.  With choreographer Paula Abdul, he created the “Laker Girls” who entertained during time-outs and halftime.  He ran promotions for the fans that were actually fun, and was known by all as a fun owner who loved his team and the game.

His management style should be a model for all owners in all sports.  His theory was “hire the right people, and then get the hell out of their way as they specialize in what they do best”.

Success proved he was right.  He hired coaches Pat Riley, and Phil Jackson.  Each won 5 championships.  He hired Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak as general managers who drafted and traded for players that completed and complemented their fast paced attack.

In the 31 years prior to Buss’ ownership, the Lakers won 6 titles, and were often stymied by the Boston Celtics.  They had a respectable winning percentage of 57.2%.  After 1979 for the 34 years he owned the team they hoisted 10 banners and raised their winning percentage to 65.9%.  And, according to Forbes Magazine, the team is worth an estimated 1 billion dollars.

As a fan, he more than rejuvenated my loyalty, my excitement about the team.  His innovations, his vision of a game that was faster and more exciting kept me on the edge of my seat.  Not only did the players have to be ready for the ball at any time, so did the fans, and with more difficulty, the cameramen.

They seemed to always score in bunches, balls were falling through the net like raindrops.  And, the best part for me, was that we often beat the Celtics.  Their domination was over.

James Turnage

Columnist-The Guardian Express

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